The appearance of the stranger…or maybe the devil himself

September 14, 2015

Ragu son of Arumugam. The fifth generation rubber tapper doubled as the curator of the plantation Kalimah temple. Standing before him that morning before the sun broke was the man in his trade mark bush jacket and sun glasses. Ragu turned to the night watch man who nodded his head as if both men knew what had to come thereafter.

Long before the stranger had made his appearance. The night watch man had woken up earlier than usual for the whole week to keep the tongue of light in the shrine burning – this was their only protection against the malevolent forces of darkness.

As a boy, Ragu had been innitiated into a sacred ritual by his father and the elders on the importance of placating malevolent forces, it had began with the grave words, “listen very carefully and do exactly what I tell you” – and now the mythical creature had appeared before them – Ragu steadied his nerves as he enacted the ritual that had been handed down to him by his father and his father before him. It was a ritual as old as the hills – a ritual that would never be allowed to see the light of day.

The night before. The villagers were told to keep their doors and panelled windows tightly shut till Ramu, the jet black, white footed noisy temple dog howled three times. Menstruating women and virgins were told not to bath, wear perfume and stay indoors. A vegetarian meal had even been prepared for all the villagers the night before. All this was done to ensure that the ritual of receiving the devil passed smoothly. And now as in successive generations – he had appeared as it was written.

As Ragu looked on at the man who stood motionlessly before the shrine. He shuddered slightly. At age 65, the curator of the Kalimah temple realized deep in his bones. This day would surely come. It was after all written in the annals of plantation history. As even both the Mahabratha and Ramayana bore witness to the existence of the devil – the unwritten chapters that is, the unseen chapters that no one ever read except those who knew the ancient ways.

And now that Ramu VIII, the 30th descendant of the noisiest pariah dog in the world who no one could ever silence in plantation history- not even the curator himself who fed him everyday had come to stand quietly and obediently beside the stranger – the curator of the temple and the night watch man both surmised – the man, the devil stood before them – it must be him.

This strange scene had been played out for generations – both the curator and the night watch man knew it as a ritual as old as the hills itself. If there was even a single deviation in the ritual – that whole year a curse would befall the villagers. There were after all omens and strange occurrences that had come to past before the arrival of the stranger. Just the other day when fresh milk was offered as alms to the naga shrine, it had curdled and soured almost as soon as burnt sandal wood was offered – followed by a sighting of a golden cobra in the temple grounds. This was preceded by elephant sightings and the reversing of the river that ran along the temple grounds. Even the elders who had seen the passing of more seasons than they cared to remember realized surely this must be the handiwork of the devil himself. During the evenings when the cicadas murmured along side the rustling of swaying palms – the curator had sat beneath the shade of the ficus trees and asked the village elders,

“How shall we deal with the devil when he appears.”

The village elders who knew the ancient way of the hills had merely sighed and mentioned,

“We will have to deal with him in the way our forefathers had dealt with him – he will not be denied entry into the temple grounds. He cannot be denied. He will have his quarter. Give him what he wants and he will bless us all.”

And now the man had appeared at dawn. Ragu had wore his black dothi instead of his traditional white prayer tunic – as for the night watch man, he had worn a white shirt. Both men as boys had once heard their fathers recount to them, be respectful to the devil and never deviate even as much as one hair breathe from the ritual – his bushjacket must always be hung on the highest post to the right on a copper nail. Never on a steel or iron nail. That may bring the whole roof down – he must never be offered blood offerings or there will be much mayhem – if the ritual goes well, he shall keep the covenant between man, land and the heavens in perfect harmony.

It was a ritual that was steeped in plantation tradition. A ritual that even the man who wore the bushjacket and sunglasses wondered how he had slipped into, in the way an actor suddenly stumbles on a script only for all to expect him to play his part – the man did not ask why or even how – he would play this role year after year unfailingly.

After the ritual when the naked stranger placed his ten fingers and on the kolam (rice paintings) and blessed the grounds – both the night watchman and the temple curator approached him to offer him a morsel of sweet coconut. The stranger took a mouthful and gave the remainder to the night watch man to be burnt as offerings to the Gods.

It was then that both the curator of the temple and night watch man breathe a sigh of relief. The ritual had come to an end – each step had been executed to true perfection with not even the slightest deviation – the great wheel of life would turn smoothly that year. The stranger smiled, dressed, shook the hand of the temple curator and disappeared into darkness.

Soon a new and beautiful day would unfurl.

——————————————————————————————————

 

‘To me superstition is the ability to provide a believable account of why the sea is filled with dead fish on a Monday in July. Or why birds are heading North instead of South the week before. Maybe even to make out how many evil spirits have been staying in a building that no one wants to spent the night in and most importantly which party is going to win in th next general elections.

And of course, if possible to have the uncanny ability afterwards to explain why it all didn’t or could never have happened at all.’

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